Introduction: Welcome to Planner Parley, a show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency planning. With technology seemingly taking over our lives, is it also taking over our brand strategy? To find out, we’re talking with Raig Adolfo, Chief Strategy Officer at 360i and Fred Gerantabee, Chief Experience Officer at FGX International, an Essilor company, two experts in applying technology for brand building, as they join John Roberts, the CSO at Truth Collective in Rochester, New York to break down how tech can enable brands, but why it isn’t and never can replace the idea, and what that means to small agencies. Pull up a chair and listen in.
John Roberts: Thank you for joining us for yet another Planner Parley podcast. Today’s episode, I think, is based around a theme where technology is not the idea. The idea is the idea, but one of the things that I really want to probe and learn more about from my great guests today is, is technology the bright and shiny that we’re all attracted to, or is it really and how can it be used as a connective thread that really drives stronger purpose between brands and consumers?
John Roberts: So today I’m going to chat and listen and learn from two great guests. Welcome Raig Adolfo, Chief Strategy Officer at 360i, and my second guest, Fred Gerantabee, Chief Experience Officer at FGX, which is an EssilorLuxotica company. Welcome Fred. Why don’t we jump straight in. Raig, when you and I started this conversation you said, “I really want to talk about technology-enabled ideas, to start there.” What do you mean by technology-enabled ideas?
Raig Adolfo: Absolutely, this is something that really kind of thrills me a little bit because honestly we live in a fascinating time for marketers. There’s just so many toys we can play with right now. Search, data, voice, AR, VR, wearables, edibles, 5G-enabled stuff, IoT and much more, so in my experience everybody wants to leverage that, but in my experience the best way to leverage all of these technologies is through a very strong sense of intentionality, which means not using tech for the sake of tech. Tech is not the idea, but using it to enable a very powerful idea.
Raig Adolfo: Usually people will skip that step of the idea so they get so excited about the technology and how to explore it that they just go for it without really finding a proper role for it to play within the ecosystem of that brand and experience, which leads to certain death of that technology or that app or that [crosstalk 00:02:46]
John Roberts: Fred, especially knowing your background and history in terms of coming up from the technology perspective as well, but the agency and their client side, how did the technology-enabled idea work for you?
Fred Gerantabee: Yeah, I think the uniform philosophy should be that it’s very much idea first. I mean as Raig said, technology is a huge enabler and something that’s ubiquitous to us right now and in so many different shapes and forms, so I think ultimately certain truths still hold, which is that we’re trying to solve pain points, we’re trying to communicate something and I think marketing is really communication of those things. It is communicating something effectively to a consumer and to a population.
Fred Gerantabee: But nowadays there’s also a level of service that is expected with that in connectivity and I think that’s what technology does brilliantly. That being said, if you go technology first down and say, “Okay, well, we’re going to do something with bots” or “We’re going to do something with AI or with voice,” the problem is you’re trying to essentially find a question that matches an answer versus the other way around.
Fred Gerantabee: So I think it’s effective to be able to think about, “What is the pain point that we’re trying to solve? What is the message we’re trying to communicate?” And then look at different types of technology and platforms as tools or building blocks, and that’s a philosophy that’s been fairly uniform for me both through agency and client side.
John Roberts: Got it. It seems to me that we’re experiencing technology as aiding utility. Okay, so simplifying things and also technology not to simplify but amplify the more emotional connection. Is that fair? Is that too narrow?
Fred Gerantabee: No, I think that’s about right. What it does well is connectivity, and that connectivity can mean something very utilitarian like connecting a consumer to a service, to a brand or to a need. It could also be connectivity amongst people and a population or target that you’re trying to effectively convey a message to, so while there’s some gray area in there, I think that binary approach really touches on a lot of things that encompass the whole ecosystem.
John Roberts: Got it, and of course the binary note is interesting, right, because you’ve been also overlaid because once you connect the utility you could also do it in a manner that has that connective thread that you’re talking about. So what are the wrong questions to start with, okay? Bear in mind we’re talking of this as a pod for strategists in all agencies, but with emphasis on small agencies. What do you think are the wrong questions to start with?
Raig Adolfo: When it comes to a brief for this kind of project?
John Roberts: Yes, when we’re thinking about the notion of what Fred’s talking about, technology as an enabler from an idea.
Raig Adolfo: I think, my opinion at least, the wrong questions to start with are questions related to the actual tech, like the question for example, “How do we use Twitter? How do we use AI? How do we use wearables for our brand?” I think that’s the wrong question to start because it’s myopic and it forces whoever the partner agencies are to just focus on creating the idea based on the tech, not the other way around, right? It’s inevitable that I speak to the other side of this thing as well and I love what Fred was saying, the whole thing about it’s designed to solve a problem.
Raig Adolfo: There’s a lot of talk about problem-solving, but people forget that problem-solving is more about the problem than the solving, right? You really need to find what the problem is. What is the problem you’re trying to solve for the brand? And then, “What problems are we trying to solve for the people that the brand serves throughout their journey and throughout the CX of this brand entirely? And how can we bring that to life?” And then we see that, “Okay great, what tech is available to make that happen?”
Raig Adolfo: So truth is, today pretty much anything is possible because of the amount of tech, encoding and [inaudible 00:06:48] marvelous things that we have up there, so we can virtually create anything. We need more anythings to create and those anythings need to be based on an actual need, not just for the sake of [crosstalk 00:07:05]
John Roberts: Fred, when you think about picking up from what Raig was saying, how have you found is the best way to direct the conversation, picking up on where best to start?
Fred Gerantabee: I’ve been in many rooms where the wrong question’s been asked, right, and generally it starts with, “Hey, we want to do something with autonomous cars. What can we do?” Right? And it’s kind of like, “Here’s the technology, here’s the client. Let’s somehow connect that,” and there’s so much wrong with that, right? First, you have to flip that around. If you land on autonomous cars, you land on something else, so be it, but I think the way to steer the conversation is, “What are we trying to do in the first place” right?
Fred Gerantabee: And there’s a couple of factors to this. What are we trying to do for the brand, first of all? Are we trying to cast the brand in a positive light? Are we trying to make them seem innovative? Are we trying to drive a service-driven mindset? There’s so many things that really, I think, have to be tethered to what the brand stands for, and it really operates at the highest strategic levels.
Fred Gerantabee: And then the next thing is, for this particular instance, “What are we trying to do?” And “What are we trying to do” can either be “What are we trying to communicate or create sentiment around? What are we trying to solve for from a service standpoint?” or both, and so I think that’s really the way to steer the conversation. I’ve had to do that on a few occasions, where you kind of back title everybody.
Fred Gerantabee: It’s kind of like, “Okay guys, chill. Before we get to this, let’s answer a few questions first.” And I think that’s where a good brief can be helpful, so I think really it’s pedaling back some of those conversations to “There’s a few things we skipped here, a few thoughts that we have to have first before we can get down to the what,” and that’s a lie, right? And the lie is a combination between “What is it that we’re trying to relay on behalf of the brand and is it truly what the brand stands for?”
Fred Gerantabee: And the second thing is, “What is the specific thing we’re trying to either execute or communicate?” And then from there we have a much better and I would say much clearer lines from which to refine our options, whether that’s platforms we may use, whether it is social media as a megaphone, whether it is new technology as a demonstrator of that.
John Roberts: I’m going to pick up on that question about the brief, Fred, because I think it impacts all of us. And me personally, honestly, because I’ve considered as we know from how this pod is running so far in connecting that technology is clunky. When we think about technology as enabler of ideas, what impact should we be thinking about as planners for the input to achieve an idea? The input of the brief and then I’m thinking about sort of the output from the brief in terms of the people that receive the brief. Does that make sense? Should we be changing the input, the brief first?
Fred Gerantabee: Absolutely. The input absolutely needs to be the place where we start, and I’ve seen a number of projects either started with the wrong brief or no brief at all, right, the latter of which obviously is a no-no. But I think the wrong brief can hurt things as well because a brief is a representation and a mission of what you’re trying to do. That’s your charter, right, and depending on who writes that brief and if they’re taking that same philosophy, you’re either going to get exactly what we’re just talking about on paper or not.
Fred Gerantabee: I think the inputs need to change, and I think what you always have to do is consider the fact that you’re going to be working with cross-functional team and really the one that you can ground everybody in is sort of what’s the brand truth at that moment. “Who are we working for?” And most people generally know that but where does the brand stand today?
Fred Gerantabee: What are its values and what are its challenges as a brand, because ultimately you’re not just trying to solve for a moment or a thing, you’re trying to solve a higher order brand challenge, which is to either communicate the brand’s message more effectively, to position them as a leader, position them as an innovator. That really needs to be the first place you start because ultimately when you measure this up, that’s how high it has to go.
Fred Gerantabee: So that brief does need to ground everybody in “Okay, who are we working for here and what are we trying to do?” Going down a step, “What do we perceive?” is the way in which we’re going to do that, and “What is it that we’re trying to solve?” And then from there is “What is the best way to solve that?” And you can’t get to that last step without going through the first two, so I think having that proper background, having that grounding and kind of resetting an entire cross-functional team, is really a great first step.
Raig Adolfo: I agree with that, and I think that no matter what team I’m leading at least, no matter the agency that I’m working with or the client, I always try to focus the brief on the strategy itself being a role for that brand to play in people’s lives, which is to say I think it’s already an evolution, right, with what Fred is saying. It’s already an evolution of briefs that we see in many meetings and in many agencies as well.
Raig Adolfo: Sometimes the brief is about “What are we trying to say?” right, so you’re not trying to say anything. Sometimes you have to walk through “What role this brand is going to play in people’s lives?” It opens up the spectrum of ideas you can have to then house the use of utility and technology as an expression of that idea. I’m going to give you an example of that. For example, I think when we created the Westworld for the Westworld: The Maze voice app that we created, it was the first immersive voice game made, with AI as well.
Raig Adolfo: Basically this is about Westworld, that show that everybody loved at HBO. The thing is that between seasons there’s so many shows for you to watch and shows usually take six months to a year to come back with a new season. How do you keep people engaged in the plot, with the characters and everything else, so that could have been a campaign. The brief was about… It was a very open question. How do you keep people engaged?
Raig Adolfo: And with a budget and the competitive landscape, basically there are many answers you can have there but then we decided, “You know what? I think the best way to keep people in is to extend the show between seasons somehow.” Keep people in the plot with the characters, dreaming about it. Keep the plot going in people’s lives, so since the audience of this show over indexes with gamers, be that heavy gamers or light gamers, and the show is about AI, we landed on a voice game as the campaign itself.
Raig Adolfo: It was very successful. We kept people in and we stretched those dollars much farther than any social or advertising campaign could have done. And again, we thought of tech as a solution, not the solution, so the brief never started with, “What tech are we going to use-
John Roberts: [crosstalk 00:14:11] earlier with the problem is more important than the solving, Raig, so just carry that thought through because this is interesting to me because Fred, it will connect back to what you were talking about earlier. When you think about that brief, Raig, and the people that worked from the brief, in order for us to have technology-enabled ideas, how critical is technology expertise in the team that’s receiving the brief? It sounds like a really simple answer, but tell me what you think.
Raig Adolfo: In my opinion, yes. I mean, working with the teams that I have because 360i is a fully integrated agency. There’s a lot of people with a lot of knowledge about tech. I think it’s important for everyone on the team to be versed enough to know at least what the different technologies available are. They don’t have to know everything about everything, but it’s important for them to have a good sense of what’s out there. And I say that because otherwise I don’t think anyone has to be a specialist, an expert on tech, but they have to be able to listen as “Where can I take this?” and then connect to someone who is an expert.
John Roberts: Yes, exactly. It sounds like the team need to have a general understanding and an absolute enthusiasm for what technology is available without knowing the depth of it to begin with. Is that fair?
Raig Adolfo: Yeah exactly, and also, people have to be curious about what’s out there, constantly. New, emerging tech and fading tech that is out there as well, be generally informed about all that’s out there and if someone is going to [crosstalk 00:15:59]
John Roberts: Excellent. Have a [crosstalk 00:15:59] perspective with your breadth and depth of experience.
Fred Gerantabee: I agree with Raig and I think it does not require people to be an expert, and I think I look at it as, if you are a creative director, if you’re a designer, your job and your continued evolution is dependent on understanding what is happening in culture, what is happening from a trends and design standpoint and so on, depending on what part of the spectrum you’re on. The same expectation really needs to go for some of these other things because they are becoming our building blocks, right?
Fred Gerantabee: Trend zeitgeist is represented by what we are seeing in social media. It’s what is being displayed through a lot of this new technology and digital channels, so it is important to be tethered to those things even just from the consumption perspective. And again, it’s not to take a bunch of folks and say, “Okay, you guys are now going to be retrained as engineers.”
Fred Gerantabee: I mean, the reason that people like me, for example, existed for many years as creative technologists is we were able to understand in depth how a particular piece of technology worked and what its capabilities were, but we were also able to stay connected to the idea and the strategy. And I think that ultimately, if you’re in this process, in a multidisciplinary team, you should have a general idea of what is out there and again, it’s more about really what you see and less about getting under the hood.
Fred Gerantabee: All of us are consumers in social media in one shape or form or another. We all use technology on a momentary basis, and I think it pays to look at it through the eyes of the consumer rather than trying to engineer it upwards. And again as Raig said, if you’re fortunate, you have people in your stable who are versed in this in a much more, I would say deep expertise way, who can be one of those inputs and say, “Cool, this makes perfect sense. Let’s shape this idea and let’s discuss what the capabilities are versus the idea that we’re trying to put forward.”
John Roberts: Yeah, that’s great perspective, so if we don’t have a Fred in the [inaudible 00:18:00], what tips have you got for all of us in terms of how we can start to become more curious or get some of that imagination going?
Fred Gerantabee: It’s an interesting question because I think that part of the answer can be stated as “Here are some things you can do,” but I think inherently you have to be a curious person, right? It’s got to be something in you and I think I’m fortunate that I’ve worked with so many people. Obviously Raig included, but many of our other colleagues who were very curious, and I find that in agency world that inherently a lot of people are curious and that’s kind of what’s driven us to that side of the industry, is kind of exploring the unknown challenges, looking at what’s happening in culture, but I think inherently you do have to be a curious person.
Fred Gerantabee: Now, in how you extrapolate that into applying that curiosity, I think it’s exploring what’s happening that’s new, it’s asking more questions about the technology that you witness and engage with, so while on one hand you do use it as a consumer, it’s like understand a little bit more about how it works. I use a voice device in my house. What makes that run? How are other people using this? Is this a fad or is this something that actually has utility value?
Fred Gerantabee: Fortunately a lot of this information is readily available, whether it’s through consults or through statistics or through contents online, so it really doesn’t take a lot. I think it’s just like anything else, it’s old school research, right? You dig deeper into some of the things that interest you and that spark your curiosity, and try and learn as much as you can without obviously reinventing your life, your career and your skillset.
Fred Gerantabee: But I think inherently curiosity needs to be in you and it’s way beyond the technology side, and I think what I see, people who are curious about technology, they’re inherently curious people who like to learn, and that’s a harder trait to take on if it’s not in your nature. Fortunately, like I said, very much in agency world that’s a common thread, whether you’re a creative person, a tech person, strategist and so on. There are industries where that’s less prevalent, but fortunately within agency world, that’s a big thing.
John Roberts: Yeah, great, and it’s funny this morning Fred, because I worry about in the world that we’re living in today, okay, we’re losing this, what do I call it? This time of wondering, okay, and I mean the wordplay, the wondering of what if, the imagination but also the wondering of just go and explore without a specific end result in mind, but exploring and being inquisitive, I think, will make us much, much smarter. Raig, from your experience, agency world, any tips you’d like to build on what Fred was saying?
Raig Adolfo: Yeah, I mean, like Fred was saying from an agency world we have Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, all of these folks always coming in, Snap and TikTok talking to us about what the latest they have in terms of plans, integrations in tech and AI, AR, VR, all those things, so we have that a lot, but funnily enough, I agree. It’s just the good old-fashioned web search. Sometimes go there and say, “What’s the latest on AR? What’s the latest on voice? What’s the latest on VR, 5G?”
Raig Adolfo: And you learn a lot about those things, right, in the first hit. It’s good to just have a refresh of that once a month at least for teams that are not used to work with technology. Just go in there every now and then and share it with the team what you’ve learned. But also, if you subscribe to Wired or to Fast Company and other publishers like that, little by little you got a lot of knowledge coming in, in terms of how technology is used, adopted and also how are brands competing through the use of technology.
Raig Adolfo: So there are people who are great actors, just a subscription away from you, that you can really kind of drink from that. And the other thing, a lot of things are again, widely available, but if you’re an agency, you can always reach out to Google or Facebook and ask for what’s up, ask for what are they working on as a partner, and I’m sure they can share a lot of stuff every time you do that.
John Roberts: That’s great and [crosstalk 00:22:36] conversation last week. I think that there’s an assumption within small agencies that if we don’t have a significant budget, then we can’t tap in, but I don’t believe that’s true, and certainly I had a meeting with Google last week again. We haven’t got a significant budget in mind right now, but they’re really, really keen to share and generally build knowledge.
Fred Gerantabee: Yeah, and I want to add to what Raig said. I think this is especially important for folks out there who are trying to refine or build a new model within their respective agencies. I think the benefit of a small agency is that there is such a focus on culture because it can be controlled more, I think, by a slightly smaller collective of people, and so if you are inherently a curious person, or if you’re someone who does this, really being benevolent and trying to bring that excitement to the rest of your colleagues is really a good service.
Fred Gerantabee: We used to do a lot in the larger agencies to get people excited about new tech and new platforms, and I think that, unfortunately while the population was generally excited, sometimes at a corporate level people were like, “Oh, that’s nice, but this is really important. We have to go make money.” And my attitude is, “Listen, we make money off of ideas. Ideas come from creativity and inspiration and learning, and if you don’t do any of those things, you’ve got nothing to sell.”
Fred Gerantabee: We have nothing else to sell, so if you are in a place in an agency, even if you’re not a tech expert, where you inherently love to learn and explore and you can help facilitate that on behalf of the population of your company, whether at a leadership level or at any level, absolutely do it, because it sometimes just takes one person to kind of be that spark. And I can’t emphasize enough how important this is, because it generally is one of the first things to go, along with just internal educational initiatives in general.
Fred Gerantabee: When people get strapped down or they’re strapped for money, they say, “Oh, well, this is nice, but this is fluff.” And I’m like, “No, it’s not. This is how we learn.” You don’t take a creative team, lock them in a box for 10 years, and then pop them out to do work. We need to be exposed to what’s out there and a lot of that is through peer to peer sharing, it’s through opportunities that we’ve discussed here.
Fred Gerantabee: It’s great if we can get a vendor on board or a technology partner, but ultimately, even if you’re a curious person, you can do great service to your colleagues with your company by pushing those types of initiatives forward.
John Roberts: That’s great, Fred. It’s great and really simple okay, in our business curiosity is not an optional extra. It’s not “I’ll get to it when I’ve got time.”
Raig Adolfo: Definitely not, and also, just to also deal with one more build on that, I think it’s interesting that at an agency that I worked at before, one thing that we did for the whole team was to get everyone certified on Google Ad, Google Words, AdWords. And it’s an online course that you can take as a group and everyone gets a very good sense of how search marketing actually works, the algorithm, and they can do the same thing for voice nowadays, with voice being a big search engine as well.
Raig Adolfo: You can do the same thing with AR, VR and others, so it’s stuff that is available for everyone to do and you can get those certifications through Google, Facebook, Twitter and their like.
John Roberts: Just putting that skin in the game. I like that, Raig, so listen, I was going to go somewhere else, but let’s just stay on the voice because it’s one of my questions that I’ve got. I was looking at a work study just last week where they talk about how 40% of U.S. adults are using voice search daily, but two thirds of clients say that they’re not prepared for voice in any capacity, and I don’t think that’s a client issue. I think that that is a client and agency issue. If 40% of adults are using voice daily but two thirds of clients say they’re not prepared in any capacity for voice, that looks like a massive gap. How do you read that, and what can we do? Fred.
Fred Gerantabee: I’ve done a lot of work in this area and I think that part of it is, and I will bounce it back to the agency side. I mean, there are companies where you do have someone in a capacity similar to mine or an adjacent capacity, who is championing these types of things. It’s not common and sometimes it’s just not enough. From the agency side, if you are working with a client who falls into that realm, I think part of it is an understanding problem and I think inherently it’s kind of the old thing with any type of new technology. It’s when people don’t understand it, it doesn’t feel attainable.
Fred Gerantabee: They back away from it. They say, “We’re not ready to do this.” So when we talk about not prepared, there’s a couple of ways you can read that. The first thing is, “We are not either financially or capabilities-wise prepared to do that,” and that’s a common thing. The other is, “We’re not mentally prepared to do it,” and I’ve found that to be more the case when we talk about these types of situations is “We have a bunch of other problems to solve. We’re still working on our TV and our traditional display media and paid social and things like that. Voice is a nice to have,” right?
Fred Gerantabee: I think that’s an education gap. To your point, you just quoted a readily available, very accurate statistic on high usage of voice and that’s a statistic that every client should have. The further connectivity piece of that is, as an agency, having the means to be able to create that feeling of attainability for a client and understand not only how important it is but how attainable it really is, and voice isn’t even what it was a couple of years ago.
Fred Gerantabee: The adoption curve, as you’ve just reminded everybody, is going up extremely fast. The technology is ubiquitous regardless of the platform or device you use, and then lots of different form factors, but more so, the ability to create and deploy things on those platforms is getting much simpler. There’s a huge field of expert vendors who do it. Most development shops do it, but also a lot of the platform partners.
Fred Gerantabee: Google is a great example of [inaudible 00:28:41] ways to kind of make that more attainable by templating some of this so that it’s not a huge endeavor. Same with the Amazon environment so it’s not a huge endeavor. If you’re a brand who wants to be able to answer some very common and basic questions and have an interactive voice conversation with a consumer, it’s not as hard as it used to be, so I think a lot of it is a learning gap, and it’s something that, unfortunately, a lot of burden falls on the agency as the innovator to say, “Hey guys, this is actually highly attainable.”
Fred Gerantabee: And again, “Here are the use cases, here are the problems we can solve with the communications that we can make possible with this.” And I think that is really something where the agency creates that connectivity. And again, it’s a common problem, a lot of technology voice being one example. I remember it was the same with things like augmented reality many years ago, even though that’s a technology that’s been around for quite a few years, exponentially longer than voice.
Fred Gerantabee: But now it’s just starting to be discovered because of the learning and awareness curve over its capabilities, and to be fair, some of its cost and technical attainability, but voice is highly attainable at this point, and a lot of the major platform players are… It’s no longer just like an app building exercise like it used to be in the past, where it’s like, “Okay, we have to build the mobile app.” It’s a huge cost and capabilities undertaking.
Fred Gerantabee: A lot of platforms are building this into their offerings, right, so Amazon’s a great example, where they focus with Alexa. It’s not just about doing cool informational stuff on Alexa, although you can do that, but a lot of their ecosystem and their paid ecosystem is enabled through voice, so even customers who are making a basic inquiry about a product that’s available or answering some basic FAQs, that’s inherently baked into the way that they’re doing business.
Fred Gerantabee: So even just by virtue of being a client who is spending money with these platforms to advertise product, these things are attainable. But agencies, whether it’s your media agency or your A of R has to help make those connections and basically say exactly what I’m saying now, to a client.
John Roberts: Yeah, but Fred, it’s also a great reminder when we were talking earlier, in my heart, when I’m asking the question, I’m naturally leaning in towards how can we use… Okay, identify the problem, et cetera, but voice in order to create an evocative, emotional connection, whereas actually the answer might be it could also be a utility, like you were just touching on now with the Amazon-Alexa point, okay? How do we actually provide a utilitarian service using voice that benefits our clients as well?
Fred Gerantabee: I think sometimes it’s very much in between, right? I mean, I’ll be honest with you, it is hard to evoke an emotional response with a voice device even as good as they continue to get, because people are entering it from a utility standpoint. We’re not at a point yet where people are sitting down like, “Hey, okay Google, tell me how I feel today” and we’re not doing online therapy some of these voice platforms, right?
Fred Gerantabee: So it is hard because it is a machine and I would say it’s actually probably a little bit harder than it is on some of the more traditional digital platforms because people when they hear a voice, they in their mind put it to something corporeal, right? So to them it’s like, “I hear a voice, therefore I should be able to perceive emotion. I should be able to have empathy for this thing. I should be able to perceive empathy.”
Fred Gerantabee: And the reality is, these are still just machines. They happen to have a voice interface on them, right? So I think that’s going to be the big challenge for some time until the technology gets to a point where it can convey a little bit more depth. So I think utility first is not a bad place to be, but if you want to be in the middle, there’s a lot of ways to do that as well, but I would agree that it’s very utility-focused and you won’t need to think about things like my daughter loves to say, “Alexa, tell me a joke,” right?
Fred Gerantabee: And she can do that for hours, right? But she also knows that that is a very utility thing, right? She’s laughing, she’s having fun, but ultimately she’s got a box shooting jokes back out at her instead of a person, and she knows it’s a box. She doesn’t think it’s a person or a playmate, right, so that distinction still is not there yet.
John Roberts: Yeah. Raig, what were you going to add in?
Raig Adolfo: I was going to say that I think voice can be used for either, to your point. It could be the middle ground but it’s either basically my experience is, either for information or for inspiration and you can find a way in the middle as well. Some brands cut across both sides of the spectrum here, but usually I think for clients who are not investing in this thing, one of the reasons why this gap is there is because the agencies and the clients themselves are not thinking of the minimal viable product of that yet.
Raig Adolfo: Because when I think of voice, there’s a lot of amazing cases out there of stuff that… We did a lot of those by the way too. It’s very well orchestrated, big-thinking, large investment kind of stuff, but there’s a lot of utilitarian stuff that you have to start doing to get the share of voice that you need in the voice space as well because it’s different from the share of voice you get and the share of search that you get in other platforms.
Raig Adolfo: So simple things about, is your content voice ready? Do clients have a clear understanding of the main questions that people are asking on a known voice search engine about their brands and products? How can they translate that into voice, because sometimes if you ask a question on Google right now about something, it’s going to give you a three-minute, a lot of paragraphs of lots of words. That doesn’t work on voice, so are you able to adapt that to the voice environment?
Raig Adolfo: Is it voice ready, the content that you have? I think that’s the first thing, is just make those things happen and get the information of the brand and the product that people are looking for ready to be on a voice platform and just put it out there, just to get clients a little bit more acclimated and possibly less skeptical or afraid of what the thing can be. That’s the minimal viable product for this and then from there you’re taking them on the journey of becoming more and more of an engagement and connection [crosstalk 00:35:13]
John Roberts: Great reminder, Raig. We don’t need to broaden a notion in step one, right, as we’re all learning as well. So we touched upon this a little bit before. Give me, both of you, and I’ll stay with you, Raig. Give me an example of a technology-enabled idea. By the way, it can come from your own case study base, but one where you think “That was a fantastic way of how technology really enabled the idea.” Tell me what and why, why you love it.
Raig Adolfo: Absolutely. Actually this is something that we just launched in partnership with Kroger.
John Roberts: Self-promotion is absolutely fine guys on this show. It’s not a problem at all. Keep at it. Seriously, I really like this one. Go on.
Raig Adolfo: This is awesome, so basically we created this in partnership with our client, Kroger. Kroger has a very strong commitment to sustainability. They have a very strong sustainability agenda and they put a lot of money and energy behind reducing food waste. And we were looking through the data as we worked with them and understood that 40% of the food waste actually happens at home. It’s not in the industry, it’s not in the channel, it’s not in logistics. It happens at home. People throw away a lot of food.
Raig Adolfo: And digging deeper into that, why that happens, we understood that that happens mostly due to lack of creativity. So if you open your fridge and you have five or six things that are still there, and you don’t know what to do with them or how to use them together or individually, you end up throwing them away because they’re going to go bad. So we look at that, working with this client, we said “Well, let’s create a platform that educates people.”
Raig Adolfo: And we started thinking about content and where to put it, but then later, again going back to “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?” we found there was a different way to do that with the audiences that we really wanted to do it, so we created something called the chef bot, which is a Twitter meets lens meets AI solution, and we launched this thing. Basically it’s totally based on those insights and the problems we’re trying to solve.
Raig Adolfo: It’s a Twitter profile that you tweet to this profile the picture of three or four ingredients that you have in your fridge right now, and it tweets back to you a recipe, what you can do with that, and it solves the problem. So we just launched this thing last week, and there’s already a lot of movement happening there. The technology’s not perfect yet. It has never been done before, so of course we keep on fixing it as we go but the success rate has been amazing and people are throwing less stuff away because they are re-leveraging what they have left in their fridge until the last moment.
Raig Adolfo: I think it’s a great case, has nothing to do with voice, of course, nothing to do with other stuff that people get really excited about, but we’re using a legacy platform like Twitter to enable people to reduce their own footprint and their own food waste.
John Roberts: Raig, in listening it draws me back to something, Fred, you were talking about earlier. We were talking about how curiosity is absolutely critical in the imagination and ideas business. Raig, do you think the curiosity is also critical for a client in this case, because you just talked about launching something that “isn’t quite perfect yet and so we’re working on it,” but it feels to me as though that’s quite an ambitious client, also one that’s willing to see how it works. Is that fair?
Raig Adolfo: I think it is very fair, and honestly, we tried to gear the agency more towards progressive marketers who are really kind of self-inspired and motivated to leverage new technologies and be the first at doing something. Kroger is one of those clients amongst other ones that we have, but I think you can still spark that type of a mission in whatever client you work with and I had that in my experience as well before in other agencies in the 22 years working this thing, that you can increase the ambition that a client has.
Raig Adolfo: And I think when you’re showing ideas, the more you make it a habit of bringing ideas that are totally… It’s the boldness that you’re going to have there in the portfolio idea that you’re bringing, is something that leverages something that no one has ever done before or even the client hasn’t done before. If you create that muscle, that habit of doing that, you little by little start seeding new ways at looking at things and lowering the risk averse-ity that clients have when they’re not as progressive.
John Roberts: Okay, so Fred, how about you? Give me an example of a technology-enabled idea that you just love and why.
Fred Gerantabee: Actually previous to my time with FGX, I was at Coty Beauty, so we’re a large portfolio company. We own brands such as CoverGirl, Clairol, Wella, so I think one of the more exciting projects we did was for Clairol, which many people know is at-home hair color. Brand’s been around for a gazillion years, and that’s a brand actually very hard to read and it’s very much… When you think about “Let’s do some new innovation,” people always go toward brands that they perceive to be innovative.
Fred Gerantabee: And it’s actually not that Clairol isn’t innovative, it’s just that, from a digital standpoint, we don’t necessarily associate some of these categories with new, innovative service for the consumer, so DIY hair coloring at category level is actually a very tricky category and it’s tricky to do the first couple of times. A lot of people fail, a lot of people exit the category generally the same day that they enter it, and that’s a huge challenge.
Fred Gerantabee: It really comes down to an education issue and look, there are videos online how to do it. You can pull out instructions from the box but ultimately there is a hands-off nature to the process and most people don’t really realize they need help until they’re in it, right? And so, one of the things we thought about for a long time, and actually this dates back to my days with Grey where Clairol was a client and we were trying to solve the same problem anyways.
Fred Gerantabee: How do we use a hands-off approach or a hands-free approach to making this category better and making the process better? So we created something called the Clairol Color Expert on the Google Assistant platform and the idea is that, as a Clairol consumer, you buy a box of hair color, you go home, and as you are about to embark on the process you can say, “Okay, Google, let’s talk to Clairol.”
Fred Gerantabee: And automatically you start to get walked through basically a step by step kind of lifeline through the process, all the way from ascertaining what type of product you have, helping you get the right thing set up and prepping for the process, and then also walking you through the process during, helping you with setting a timer, keeping you busy and occupied, giving you tips and also reminding you when it’s time to rinse out.
Fred Gerantabee: This is not a new issue. This is an old issue solved by a new technology, and the thing that made it perfect was, and I think a lot of this was because the problem has been longstanding, we didn’t say, “Cool, we’ve got Clairol and we’ve got Google Assistant. What can we do here? Is there something here?” It was, “This is a problem. People have a lot of trouble entering the category because they don’t get the results they want,” but it’s also a process where you don’t have the luxury to sit down at a laptop or start futzing with your phone.
Fred Gerantabee: So what makes perfect sense is a platform that doesn’t require your phone, doesn’t require you to touch anything, it just requires you to speak at it, so the Clairol Color Expert was launched and it was a year and a half ago maybe at this point, maybe a little less. And I was really proud of it, in particular because to me it was the perfect marriage of the right technology for solving the problem at the right time.
Fred Gerantabee: And I’m very proud of it in particular because it was a multidisciplinary effort. The brand team understood the value of it and it was also a big reckoning for that brand and many others as to, “This is not a toy. This is not a shiny object. This is a service. Service is what sells in a category where there’s many other players.”
John Roberts: Great story because also I’m hearing in that, comes back to kind of where we began, right, in terms of the fundamental challenge to overcome this bright and shiny, as we talked about, but technology to really enable ideas. It let’s us really focus on the problem we’re solving and you just described in Coty, I heard a number of different problems, okay? The utilitarian problem of “I can’t actually interact with a computer when I’ve got my gloves on. I’ve got dye all over my hands,” as well as the fundamental issues about “How do I actually get better at using the product?” and building not just a functional benefit, but also that emotional benefit with the brand. Excellent.
Raig Adolfo: I think it goes back to the conception of this podcast, right, the origins of the whole thing. It’s the best cases we see out there, be that ours or someone else’s, it always comes from a clear understanding of what the problem is trying to solve in that it just fits perfectly with that. One thing that I would inspire people to do, encourage them to do, is to really learn about these platforms and technologies. Understand how people are using them and how they can help you solve the problem, but also imagine new ways that people could use it.
Raig Adolfo: Sometimes we can create something entirely new for the platform like we talked about for the chef bot for Kroger. That has never been done before in this type of platform and we can help the platform go to the next level as well. It goes both ways.
John Roberts: That’s a great way of looking at it, Raig. So listen, just picking up on that future focus, Fred, what are you most excited about when you think about the topic of what we’re discussing now about the technology-enabled ideas? What excites you most about the near future?
Fred Gerantabee: That is a good question. I’m somebody who sees a lot on a regular basis because it’s my job to do so, so for me, certain things are… I don’t always have the magical sheen that I think a layman consumer would have, which is kind of unfortunate. I don’t want to say I’m jaded, but maybe that’s the way I’m saying it, right, but I continue to be very excited about the combination between AI and many other types of end points.
Fred Gerantabee: It’s not one specific thing and if you look in voice, voice is an AI-enabled, at least to some degree, piece of technology. You look at most of the mobile apps, devices, services we use, they’re AI enabled. And I know it sounds kind of cliché, but AI is exciting to me but it’s also for its ability, I think, to start to apply some connectivity and thought, on machine thought anyway, to certain things that we do in our lives, anything that really to me inspires connectivity.
Fred Gerantabee: I mean, nothing is better than just even the basics, like be in my car and as I’m approaching my home be able to automatically, because of my geolocation, be able to unlock my front door. It’s really basic stuff like that that gets me excited, which kind of falls into the IoT place, but it’s a combination of a lot of things. I think this, how do you say, this sort of tapestry and mashup between all these evolving technologies is exciting because you just don’t know where it’s going to go.
Fred Gerantabee: And a lot of technologists say “I’m excited because I can see where this will be in five years.” I won’t lie to you and tell you that I can, because I can’t and I think most people can’t either. If you go back two years and try to predict where we were today, we couldn’t have, right, and so I think I’m very excited about the potential of all these different things connecting, and I think part of that will be, as things become more standard and more uniform, as more players grow in the field and others drop off.
Fred Gerantabee: And I’ve seen this many times over, and I think that’s going to be a key, too, is that some uniformity of the big players, and not that I necessarily condone big companies stamping out others, but a lot of big companies are an aggregate of smaller pieces, of smaller companies, ideas, founders, technologies, and so I think as technology becomes more standardized in certain ways, it’s really exciting to think about what it can do.
Fred Gerantabee: And again, I go back to the Google Assistant example. I mean, it’s one of the two. I mean, three if you count Siri, but I mean, it’s one of two or three core voice assistant solutions and virtual assistant solutions. You look at most major appliances. I mean, I realized my dishwasher is Alexa-enabled which is, to be honest, absolutely ridiculous but kind of cool at the same time.
Fred Gerantabee: So I’m just excited about the connectivity between these things and as certain technologies become higher in adoption, become more standard as things go on, just picturing what life may be like in a year or two from now is absolutely fascinating. So I mean, I guess the short answer is, I’m excited about everything but I think AI as an enabler is great, because it adds a degree of context and intelligence to that connectivity.
Fred Gerantabee: I’m a big fan of voice and virtual assistants because I think they are a connector in a lot of ways, so a lot to be said. I continue to be excited about augmented reality, although that’s not per se a new technology, but I’m excited to see that it continues to become part of the mainstream and the adoption curve has exponentially grown in just the last two to three years.
John Roberts: Well listen, this is a great closing two bits because when I think about where we started, okay, “Is technology enabled ideas, is it bright shiny thing or connective thread?” I heard today that the answer could be yes to either, but what we need to do is really think about how do we really focus on what problems we’re solving like you guys, both of you, spoke very eloquently and passionately about, and that passion was really interesting to me and Fred, even with your answer just now, of the enthusiasm that we need to have in the ideas and imagination business, of how do we maintain our curiosity and think about and learn about new ways to solve problems.
John Roberts: That’s how we can deliver stronger, better technology-enabled ideas. Fantastic. So, any closing thoughts for the listeners in terms of the topics for today? Anything that we haven’t covered or any point of emphasis you want to make. Raig?
Raig Adolfo: Again, I think you already hit all the points there, but the only thing I really would inspire people to do is imagine. I think imagination is what drives the creation of technology and the best use of it. There’s going to be a lot of engineers, a lot of very smart people who are going to create technology there. It is our responsibility as marketers and as agency folks to push it to the next level to all it can do, so without our ambition behind it, our push, the tech is just tech.
John Roberts: I hear you. It’s great. How about you, Fred?
Fred Gerantabee: I second what Raig said, but also again, it’s to always think about how technology is a constant companion. It’s a way of life, it’s a connector, but it is not the solution in itself, and this is coming from someone who lives in technology. It’s think about what you want to do, what you want to achieve, whether it’s for yourself, whether it’s for your business, whether it’s for your client or any combination of those. Think about ultimately how technology becomes a bedfellow, not a magic wand.
John Roberts: Guys, time’s up, but as ever I’ve listened, learned a lot and I really loved your enthusiasm, but thank you both so much for sharing this discussion. Fred, Raig, stay well and hopefully connect with you properly soon. Thanks, guys.
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